Igun street in Benin City was the location of the first intervention of the project titled Whose Centenary? Whose Centenary? Which is a two-year long artist-led research and collaborative project initiated by Peju Layiwola held on the 6th and 7th of December 2014. It featured nine accomplished artists from Nigeria, a renowned Nigerian poet and an international curator, Ines Valle. Artists in this first exhibition include Andrew Eseibo, George Osodi, Jelili Atiku, Elizabeth Olowu, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Taiye Idahor, Victor Ehikhamenor, Jumoke Verisimmo, Peju Layiwola, Ines Valle and Jude Anogwih.
The art project Whose Centenary? is a critical analysis of significant historical aspects of Nigerian social, political and cultural memory, with a particular emphasis on 1914. The project explores themes around the centennial commemoration of the amalgamation of the northern and southern regions of Nigeria and the multilayered nature and prevalent results of colonialism in Nigeria in the primordial space of Benin. Benin became a place where history played out over a hundred years ago with the exile of Oba Ovonramwen to Calabar in 1897 and the eventual entrenchment of British rule.
1914 brings to mind the passing of the king who stood against British imperialism in defence of his kingdom. In its rhetorical form, several questions emerge: Who and what are being commemorated? In what forms do these memorializations occur?
The multi-series exhibition in Benin included performance art, poetry reading, songs/choreography, installation art, painting, photography, video art and a collaboration between the academically-trained artists, traditional Edo bronze casters and their wards in a series of community-based projects in Benin City. This ground-breaking public art project began with a procession in the King's quarters at Akenzua Street through Airport Road, Ring Road, and the Oba's palace culminated at Igun Street- a world Heritage site and the home of traditional bronze casters in Benin City who for centuries produced the bronze works the city and country are renowned for. At Igun Street there were several art exhibitions and performances.
Whose Centenary? redefines the boundaries of museological spaces in Africa, where places, people and their memories continuously enrich our understanding of life, art and history. Igun Street, conceived as a living museum, becomes an ideal space for this intervention.
A series of other events scheduled for 2015 would include a group art exhibition, video screening, performances, spoken word, round table discussions and a solo exhibition by the initiator of the project.